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Friday, December 29, 2006

The Other Guys

Birder's World has just published The Other Guys, Auburn University ornithologist Geoffrey Hill's report of his Florida Ivory-billed Woodpecker search. I heard Hill and Mennill give their presentation about the search at the North American Ornithological Conference in Veracruz this past October.

A couple of notes on this article:
Hill reports on the Arkansas search started when "a kayaker spots a woodpecker in Arkansas in the inter of 2004." While this has become the official story, others have noted that Gene Sparling, the kayaker, was aware of an earlier report of Ivory-bills in the area by 1999 Pearl River IBWO searcher Mary Scott. So, the Arkansas report is not an independent report out of the blue by an anonymous kayaker, but the continuation of a crusade to find IBWOs that started in the Pearl River.

It's also clear that Hill was looking for IBWOs in Florida because he had just heard a few weeks earlier about the Arkansas sightings and he was "longing for an Ivory-bill search" of his own. So again, the Florida sightings are not independent, but rather came from a search inspired by reports from Arkansas, that fueled expectations that IBWOs were in Arkansas and perhaps elsewhere, just waiting to be found.

Their first sighting was of a flying bird by "novice birder" Brian Rolek. An hour later, Hill alone heard a double-knock. While Hill writes that "I left the area that weekend intrigued but a long way from convinced that we had found Ivory-bills." OK, that may be the official story, but as a birder, I wonder if there was more going on. We've all had the experience of missing a rare bird seen by others. This is frustrating, but never so frustrating as when someone you are with sees the bird and you don't. When that happens, your brain gets a little crazy. You really, really want to see the bird. Does that impact your judgement? Fuel your expectations? Did that impact this search in Florida? Hard to tell, but you have to wonder.

At the very least, Hill and Hicks were back the next weekend. What were they expecting to find? How anxious were they? Did they have cold clammy palms? Having chased lots of rare birds, I can only imagine how keyed up I would be if I really thought there was a bird as rare as the IBWO out there, and that I had almost seen it the week before. I would be very, very determined to get the bird!

So Hill and Hicks are out looking for the woodpecker that their associate saw the week before, and Hill thinks he may have heard. Hicks sees a bird fly. He describes it as a picture perfect IBWO--except he didn't see the bill. Its perfect. Is it too perfect? It sounds good. But brief view, with high expectations, can be a recipe for disaster when looking for a rare bird.

At this point, the whole team is surely convinced that IBWOs are there on the Choctawhatchee. Everything now becomes a search for evidence to support their claim. All doubt seems to have vanished. Was enough critical judgement expended to judge those two quick sightings?

The rest of the article goes on to detail their continued search for evidence of the woodpeckers. Not really a search for evidence, because they already think the birds are there, but a search for proof that the birds are there. We all know what they came up with...some interesting sound recordings, a couple more quick glimpses of birds that look like IBWOs, some large holes in trees, and bark scaled from trees. Lots of trees have large holes in them, and Pileated Woodpeckers are known to scale trees. The sound recordings? Who knows what are making those? But its impossible to prove that they were made by IBWOs. The thirteen sightings are all brief glimpses of flying birds--a tough sell to birders critical of brief rare bird sightings.

"The Other Guys" are out there again this year, with help from Cornell. Hill is "confident that we will succeed" in finding the IBWOs. It won't be long before the whole world will be able to judge that confidence for themselves.


Anonymous said...

It's a sad, sad story. The whole ivory-bill thing, rather than being allowed to dry up and blow away, has been seized on by the hysterics and the hopeful, and continues to cause bad blood and to inspire bad words among birders. Bad news.

Anonymous said...

First I have recently been to the Choctawhatchee River. The birds are there...period.

Over the last 30 years and especially over the last few years I have been carefully watching Pileateds. I have
heard and seen hundreds post Kulivan, in former/present IBWO range and there is a heightened sense of awareness when a large woodpecker is about.

You allude to this excitement as have others but many then based on this premiss take a wrong turn to reach an eroneous conclusion. I believe most good field birders can take it up a notch in the field.

This in general makes it much less likely to make a hideous and almost absurd mistake of calling a Pileated an IBWO even at 100 yards. ( Besides there have been several views from much closer.)

Almost all average field birders will never call out IBWO when viewing a Pileated and to get strings of novice to great field birders (mostly very good field birders) doing it in Arkansas, LA and FL is ludicrous based on my observation of others calling out Pileateds until it get monotonous now for years.

These species are not that alike except to the total novice. When Roger Tory Peterson got his life Ivory-billed in 42 he emaphatically noted the size differance calling the Pileated puny and the Bill a whacking big bird.

An Ivory-billed is 50-60% larger on average by weight/volume this causing quite a different outline compared to a "puny" Pileated.

The bird is here...its time to get out in the field for some and start pitching in rather than trying to explain away every group of 2 to 7 to 14 credible reports via blog posts proposing mass hysteria or fantastic tales of the worst field birding and birders imaginable in or not in a conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, well-written summary with painfully precise insights. Thanks for this. Keep up the good work!

birdchaser said...

Anonymous #1, if you have your own IBWO sighting to share, with details, please do so. Otherwise, nothing in your comment provides reason to believe that IBWOs are still out there. I wish they were, and if they are, I'll be the happiest guy around. But we're still missing good sightings (lengthy, all field marks noted repeatedly, by multiple observers) or documentation. Sorry, but you can't say "the birds are there...period" without backing that up and be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Well, 'anonymous 11:01' here:

My comment unfortunately got sandwiched in such a way that it was unclear who I was complimenting. I think Rob's very reasonable, rational, and, in my view, helpful summary was excellent. I think 'anonymous 9:35' reveals yet another of the shrill, unhelpful, unscientific, and spiteful believers bent on making those who express sound opinions to repent. This sort of rhetoric continues to polarize the issue and is just plain unhelpful. Rob is absolutely right to ask calmly for verifiable documentation from you (and anyone) who claims an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The evidence to date demonstrates that experts can mistake Pileated Woodpecker--the video from Arkansas shows characters that definitely eliminate Ivory-bill--and that these same experts will defend vehemently their own mistake with unverifiable data.

The fact remains that no evidence confirms the claimed rediscovery. Many of us who accept that statement are searching, are experts, and know the difference between Ivory-bills and Pileateds. So, please, 'anonymous 9:35' stop with the irrational, haranguing and simply give us the verifiable documentation. Otherwise, accept the statement above until such documentation is provided.

Anonymous said...

Anon states...
"An Ivory-billed is 50-60% larger on average by weight/volume..."

Huh? I can find no data to support this ludicrous claim. Mensural data from the BNA accounts indicate IBWO was about 9% larger than PIWO.

Either the linear measurements of specimens are incorrect or the IBWO was the most obese woodpecker to have existed.

I think I believe the specimen measurements. No, I am not claiming the true believers are delusional. No, wait! On second thought...

birdchaser said...

Since this is a post primarily about the psychology pitfalls of birding, I have to say that arguments about size of IBWO and Pileateds are interesting because the longer I bird, the more difficult I find it is to accurately judge the size of birds single birds.

I used to think I was good at differentiating size in the field. After more than 25 years now, I can say that size has fooled me enough that I would be hesitant to trust my impression of a bird's size unless it was very close or I had it in direct comparison with another bird of known identity. I can't even begin to imagine how anyone getting a four second glimpse (and four seconds really is more of a glimpse than a look when dealing with a moving bird) of a lone bird in flight can with a straight face say that they could accurately judge size. Especially when their hearts are pounding with the excitement and anticipation of seeing a rare bird.

And having been in many positions over the years to appraise birders' sense of their own skills, I have to say that most people probably grossly overestimate their own birding abilities. The mind can just play too many tricks on us to have much confidence in quicky looks at birds that we might want to be something rare.

Anyone with real birding experience knows deep down in their heart that this is true. They just have to think back to the last time they got a quick look at something and thought it was a rarity, only to find out with a better look that it was really just a stick, a soda can, or a black velvet Elvis.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chaser and Anon. Anon 1 here. My observations will be shared with the individuals that need the info to research the species. If you are one of these you will get the data.

Would either of you like to share with us your data proving that the IBWO is extinct to the level that is now demanded by some to prove its existance to all? Lets stop the hypocrisy and double standards and stick to facts and of course I will reciprocate and avoid inflammatory sentences like my former.

Science is not a static set of hypotheses or a hypothesis. As data comes in one should evaluate and reevaluate as needed. It seems as if the sometimes scientific, non-linear process has been stopped by a few fixed opinions some of which contribute nothing to the body of data. Kulivan was a great sighting....all field marks then some not in the book. You do relaize that Remsen pulled out the best to quiz this fellow on things that he should not have gotten from any book and he passed.

Data can either support or refute a particular hypothesis.

Where are all the papers with data refuting the evidence gathered in AR, LA and FL?

I see one - Sibley et al. Jackson's were mainly opinion pieces and presented no new evidence. Prum withdrew his paper after hearing tapes of counter-calling birds. You do realize the null has provided no proof that can debunk this counter calling with out invoking something they have no actual proof of......that is another species such as Blue Jay or Sittidae calling back to one another with no other species specific vocalizations on that taped sequence?

You do realize that the Sibley paper dealt with the video?

We all know the reports that 4-5 of the last 6 pairs of IBWO left at Singer departed before the forest was cut down. Do we have any documentation of where these birds went? Jackson himself has stated that there was some good forest left to the N along the river.

The point is several birds went somewhere from LA and are completly unaccounted for. Do you have an explanation of why such conspicuous birds went unaccounted for? Could the list of explanations include they found somwhere else to at least exist for awhile? It should.

The same question for the SC and two Florida populations that Tanner said were there in '42. Do you have any proof where any of the last 22-24 birds went?

If you have nothing why are we to believe the species is extinct when you have no proof and there have been credible reports for the last 60 years?

We all know that there have been minimal documented comprehensive searches from 1950 to 1999. One person searching--- Dr. Jackson and a student did both hear a bird in the Y. Delta area many years ago. Post 99 we have had a few searches over a fragment of the potential habitat .....and what do you know some very good searchers and the modern age expert of large woodpeckers says they are here.

Also very recently several scientists at USFWS rejected the null PIWO, hypothesis on the Luneau video for several reasons.

Look at all the data and come up with a hypothesis that fits it best.
Please do not involve multiple species without proof that this occurs to explain each single event
such as kents and double knocks from the same general location of a sighting ten minutes before.

Please do not use Blue Jays calls or nuthatch calls as a plausible explantion while never going to the raw tapes from any source and confirming what AU and CLO have said....there were no other call types of these species before or after the great majority of these IBWO like calls.

There are very few Blue Jays and nuthatches in the Choctawhatchee River.

Please do not use deer calls that do not match the temporal field conditions or the observations of various scientists in the field. If you have some actual data then please publish it.

When are we going to have rebuttal to the adhesion data colected by AU if it is so flawed? The trees have been there for months...can't be too difficult.

Try and not confuse irrefutable proof with what we have reached at this point, a great preponderance of the data points to the hypothesis that IBWO lives. The 0 to .0001% uncertianity being caused by explantions I can not fathom but surely you can.

For example a mistaken Anhinga seen from 50 feet away followed ten minutes layer by the only aberrant or non aberant call of a Blue Jay or nuthatch recorded for an entire month is not necessarily a plausible explanation.

Its an proposed hypothesis without proof of ever having occured before and therefore does not come near explaining all the data let along even one set of data.

And finally what about the direct multiple observations by two sighters on one bird? What about birds with black heads? What about the one or more birds with pale bill seen by AU? All of these had other marks also. What about the now approaching 50 reputable eyewitnesses? You must convincingly debunk it all to form an acceptable hypothesis or string of. Please someone write it all up and get it accepted.

tks all....I do not expect any real answers other than you holding onto that small .0001% chance that the bird is extinct.

A not insignificant number of those in the field have found you to be .0001% wrong.

By the way the answers are in the field... not on blogs.

Happy New Year


birdchaser said...

Anon 1, I'm not claiming that the IBWO is extinct. I'm just claiming that I haven't seen convincing evidence that any of the reports you consider credible are indeed all that credible. All the sightings I've read about have been quickies...which are notoriously unreliable. I've seen all kinds of things on quick looks that have turned out to have not actually been there. Black heads, light bills, without an extended look its impossible to have complete confidence in those field marks on quick looks of distant flying birds.

Nobody has published a peer-reviewed questioning of the Auburn evidence because a) many ornithologists aren't good enough birders to really have the credibility to publish on this question, b) others think that it will all just go away when Auburn is unable to find IBWOs this year, and c) this stuff just came out a few weeks ago...perhaps someone somewhere is working on a paper, we'll have to see. In the meantime, Auburn's results have been extensively discussed online and by birders all over the country, and those with the most experience are the least likely to accept them. Why is that? Elitist birders? Or perhaps they are the best qualified to say that these sightings don't raise to the level of good evidence yet.

One thing that is interesting about the Hill stuff in FL. In Veracruz he admitted that he didn't have proof. Now he's got a book coming out, a major magazine piece, and he's giving the impression that his evidence is more solid than it is.

As for all the speculations about how IBWOs could have survived...sure, I'm open to the possibility that they "could" have survived. I just haven't seen convincing evidence yet that they "have" survived.

As for the 60+ credible sightings...none of these were considered credible before the Cornell paper came out. Jackson thought he "might" have heard something once with his students. But nobody had been able to confirm any of these sightings. Other people showing up later and thinking they also see the bird in a quick look is what I'm saying isn't good enough to consider confirmation of a sighting. There's just too much psychology involved there to be able to trust those secondary reports when the looks are as brief or even briefer than the initial reports.

I have to admit that many things about the Kulivan sighting sounded good. A couple of the FL sketches looked interesting. I'm just saying that its really tough to be sure that these folks really saw what they said they saw. I'm not calling anyone a liar here, I'm just saying that there is enough "reasonable doubt" to remain incredulous about these sightings.

I'm not anti-IBWO searching. I'm all for people going out and having a look. Like I said before, I'd be the happiest guy around if IBWOs are proven to still be out there. I'm not biased against believing in IBWO sightings. I just have to look at the evidence presented so far, and find it wanting.

Some say where there's smoke there's fire. But sometimes there's just somebody blowing smoke.

That said, I'm not accusing anyone of perpetrating an IBWO fraud. I'm just suspecting them of being wrong about what they consider to be evidence. If someone comes out with a good IBWO video tomorrow, I'll be very happy. But I'll still consider all the previous "evidence" to be inconclusive or unreliable.

But maybe there are just two types of people...those who look for reasons to believe, and those who look for reasons why it might not be prudent to believe. I think Harrison et al are in the first camp. Right now they are reduced to coming up with elaborate theories about "elusive" IBWOs that are just too wary to be found. They grasp at whatever little thing they can think of to prove their case. Painted decoy tests. Unconfirmable sound recordings. Pie-in-the-sky models of IBWO demographics. They build a huge circumstantial case, based on lots of unproven assumptions, then feel satisfied that all their speculations add up to conclusive evidence.

Others take a look at all the evidence, bit by bit, see good reasons to be skeptical about each and every single piece by itself, and decide that it all adds up to nothing.

The two types of people are having a hard time talking to each other on this IBWO issue. Skeptics are accusing the "circumstantial evidence" crowd as stringers. Believers are accusing skeptics of having an axe to grind.

For my part, I don't have an axe to grind. I would love to be proven wrong. But for now, I see it all as a huge cautionary tale about the limits to sight records, problems with observer bias, and the psychology of rare bird chasing--with some folks being much more cautious than others!

Andy said...

BirdChaser, well said. And to the various anonymous posters, good points as well. I'll chime in with a few comments.

For starters, one of the anonymous posters said "the video from Arkansas shows characters that definitely eliminate Ivory-bill". I don't think that this can be said with such authority. I'm not an expert, but I've read all the same books and articles as everyone else about the subject. It seems to me that the video is inconclusive. Several experts have examined it and formed an opinion that the bird shown could be an IBWO, and other experts have examined it and formed an opinion that it is a PIWO. The fact that ornithologists disagree on what is shown is further evidence that there just isn't enough data in those frames to make a positive ID either way. It is a shame, but that's what we've got. It is an interesting video, but neither confirms nor denies the existence of the IBWO.

I think that the birds are out there in very small numbers. I also hope that someone gets better evidence to confirm my belief. But until that happens, as a scientist myself, I cannot be critical of skeptics. The skeptics are simply applying the scientific method to the problem, just as they'd do if I proclaimed some new theory about how gravity really worked, or any other physical principle.

So to the anonymous poster who seemed offended by Birdchaser's post, I would simply ask that you not get so worked up by this. No one is trying to rain on the IBWO discovery parade. But reasonable people are asking reasonable questions and asking for proof of the validity of the data. That's how science works, and we have a better society because of it. While it may sound like a case of "I didn't see it so I don't believe you," that is certainly not the intention. Everyone must understand that when making a claim such as this, a request for proof is going to be made by the scientific community and then the data is going to be peer reviewed to see how it stands up. We don't yet have any way to open up somebody's brain and review what they saw. So the best thing we have is film, and hence an unquestionable photo is what will be required to confirm the existence of the IBWO.

I believe that people have seen them, and I just hope that soon evidence confirms that.


Anonymous said...

Hello Bird Chaser and Anons, Anon 1 here.

I stated that IBWO is 50-60% larger than PIWO by weight and volume in the obvious context of the bird ID scenario in the SE US.

An anon poster was then let to post that: "Huh? I can find no data to support this ludicrous claim. Mensural data from the BNA accounts indicate IBWO was about 9% larger than PIWO."

As the moderator we should have realized that the conversation is obviously about the weight/volume of D. pileatrus pileatus which is the pertinent and smaller subspecies.

The anon evidently can not correctly look up that BNA gives weights, N =3, for IBWO average 455 grams. The
weight for D. p. p. is 250g to 300 hence my original statement that the weight/volume between the subject taxa is significantly different. My 50% differance commment is right on.

The anon poster also took the conversation for a discussion on length which it also obviously wasnt. That post is a bag of crap.

If a fair moderator is involved I think thay have an obligation to keep these types of posters that have nothing to contribute and are puposely reading posts incorrectly to further an agenda, off the blog. Or at least make a corrective comment so that it is known that the moderator knows the subject matter.

So what is it....did the blog know that there is a significant weight differnce between IBWO and DPP or not? Or are some just finding out?u

Or are we going to let comments like anons come in to purposely steer the conversation away from the truth to the benefit of one agenda to the loss of a good conversation/?

just wondering and Happy new year.

birdchaser said...

It's true that the three IBWOs that we have weights for are heavier than most Pileateds. Its another thing to say that this is a statistically significant difference--which can only be established with a larger sample size. It is also unclear how field observers are supposed to be determining that their IBWOs are heavier than Pileateds. Statements that IBWOs are just so much larger than Pileateds are not very helpful. So far we're not seeing this documented in the evidence presented. Again, determining size differences...or in this case, mostly mass difference, in the field, with quick looks at lone flying birds, is not going to be deemed credible by most careful observers without a lot more documentation.

Anonymous said...

Birdchaser, On the weight of IBWOs.....Our assumption of N = 3, started in haste by me, is just an assumption and even an error. One of the references is Catesby 1731. He seems to have been talking about the species ( as in the population)and there is absolutley no inference from his famous text that he was talking about a lone measurement of one bird.

The reference from BNA of the Kentucky bird (upwards of one pound) is indeed one bird (N = 1).

In addition Catesby's exact quote says 1.25 pounds! Thats 1.25 pounds......~570 grams....Dpp is less than 301 grams!!!! Are you guys able to distinguish a mostly white softball from a 75% dark hardball or are you to busy watching the girls bounce?

>>Picus Maximus rostro albo: The largest white-bill Wood-pecker.

Weighs twenty ounces; about the size, or somewhat larger than a Crow. The Bill white as Ivory, three inches long, and channelled from the basis to the point: the Iris of the eye yellow: the hind-part of the Head adorned with a large peaked crest of scarlet feathers: a crooked white Stripe runs from the eye on each side the Neck, towards the Wing: the lower part of the Back and Wings (except the large Quill-feathers) are white, all the rest of the Bird is black.<<<

Someone should check the other BNA referance and I believe that the Catesby text is based on more IBWOs than you and I are ever going to see. N is therefore pending and a minumum of 3. In addition the discrepancy between the text and BNA is noted and should be examined.

Also your blanket statement that 3 measurements when involved with biological systems is not statistically significant is an attempt to ignore the many ways to satisfactory examine small data sets (see Rosenthal '94). You are also certainly aware that the SD will be significant if addtional N measurements were close to the existing N average of the three specimens. N increasing will not necessarly make the bird smaller nor certain anons minds larger.

You have also attempted to ignore the tremendous amount of past work not only in the usefullness of significant standard deviations when examining biological systems but also many volumes of work by those whose shoulders we stand on in Ornithology. These forebearers have made it quite clear the IBWO is a SIGNIFICANTLY larger bird than PIWO.

So do you have any reason to believe and do you have any facts that support that Catesby examined only one IBWO?

Also I see an insinuation that some D. p.p. may be larger than IBWO. Or are you jsut trying to obfuscate like that first anonymous and bring in a subspecies that is not involoved in this discussion? What are you saying about Dpp in relation to IBWO?

And if you know of very large Dpp what is your source, overall N and greater than N in size D. p.p.

I have had several IBWO skins side by side with Pileateds.....certain morpho. characteristis though lessened in the tray are still there.......mainly I write of the upper torso width/breadth differnces between the two species. The same can be seen btween IMWO and IBWO. One of Dpp or IBWO is barrel upper chested......guess which one?

Your continued insistance that you cannot determine with a great degree of certainty birds 50-60% larger by weighth/volume is duly noted. Many good field birders can make these desgnations at some finite distance.

I would love to test you with preapproved birds by all parties, sliding by on invisible clothes lines. i bet you would do better than you let on.

Regardless and with due respect please do no extirpate good reports and a species by your projectional habit that as you say gets worse as you get older.

There are real hunters, birders and field researchers that can easily dstinguish birds from different genera and with 150 to 200% more white in their wings at 25 yards, 50 yards and 100 yards.

By the way sorry to hear your life list doesnt include Bohemian Waxwing but does have Goshawk but then Accipter sp. Are you sure about that Loggerhead Shrike to?

peace Anon 1

>>>It's true that the three IBWOs that we have weights for are heavier than most Pileateds. Its another thing to say that this is a statistically significant difference--which can only be established with a larger sample size. It is also unclear how field observers are supposed to be determining that their IBWOs are heavier than Pileateds. Statements that IBWOs are just so much larger than Pileateds are not very helpful. So far we're not seeing this documented in the evidence presented. Again, determining size differences...or in this case, mostly mass difference, in the field, with quick looks at lone flying birds, is not going to be deemed credible by most careful observers without a lot more documentation.<<<

birdchaser said...

Anon #1, I've been thinking a lot about what you've been saying, and how I should respond so as to not loose sight of the most important points. I'm about to post another post that will further go into this, but here goes:

1) The fact that we are arguing about relative size of IBWO and Pileated basically emphasizes that we don't have good sightings. IBWO supporters have to argue about the size of Pileated because their sightings are so poor that they don't have the real good description that they need for critics to accept their sighting. In that sense, they are "stringing" their sighting by relying on what should probably be a minor detail if they had a good sighting. If you have a pair of IBWO on a tree at close range, you don't need to argue about size, because you have so much more to work with in writing your description.

2) The IBWO size thing is overblown. To depend on it so much shows a real weakness, both in the evidence (or lack thereof), as well as in the argumentation. We have three meaurements of IBWO weight, none of which we know a lot about. We can't be sure of how they were made or how accurate they were. Do you know how Catesby weighed his birds? The measurements were not precise, and we can't be sure they were accurate.

3) And even if they were accurate, it hasn't been demonstrated how that translates as a field character for distinguishing IBWO from Pileated. The recent reports do not do that either.

4) The psychology of looking for IBWO is all about proving that a sighting is of an IBWO, where in many cases it should be to prove that it isn't a Pileated. Whith quick looks, by people with IBWO field marks burned into their brain, its just way to easy for people to see what they want to see. Because that's what they are looking for. A big bird flies by through the trees. The searcher is looking to see if it has white on the trailing edge of the wings. There is white. A lot of white. But before the observer can even be sure where the white is, the bird is gone. No matter where you stand on the Luneau video, the competing IDs of that bird is proof enough that people can see whatever they want to when they look hard enough.

So, you've got a questionable field mark, used under questionable circumstances (quick flybys) by questionable observers (with IBWO on the brain) under questionable circumstances (rare bird search). That's a recipe that serious reviewers of bird records have known about as a recipe for disaster for over 100 years.

Before we can claim that IBWOs are out there, we need evidence that isn't dependent on all of these problematic variables.

Anon #1, if you have something better than an ID strung together by resorting to questionable argumentation of questionably viewed evidence, then lets have it. Otherwise, there are just too many questions for most serious birders I know to take these sightings seriously.

Andy said...

I think that the sightings need to be taken seriously in any case, but they do not necessarily prove existence of the bird. Maybe I give people too much credit, but I don't think that there are many people who would simply fabricate a sighting story to garner attention. Certainly it could happen, but wouldn't it be easier to get attention in other ways, with fewer mosquito bites?

It is unwise to simply dismiss a sighting because the person didn't get a great photo of the bird. However, it is similarly unwise to base an unprovable sighting report as fact that the bird exists, due to all the ID problems that have been discussed ad nauseum in this blog.

- Andy

birdchaser said...

Andy, thanks for the thoughts. I'm not speculating that anyone is making up IBWO sightings to get attention. I wouldn't know anything about that.

I'm also not totally dismissing the sightings because there is no photo. I'm dismissing the sightings reported so far because they are poor sightings that can't be relied upon, for many reasons discussed here and elsewhere.

As for the discussion about IBWO going on here "ad nauseum", I am a little sick of the discussion myself, but think that it is important for us to keep our heads on straight about these reported sightings and not get carried away by our wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

Birdcahser no one is arguing. Your use of the word shows you have an entrenched thinking pattern and position on this matter. Again scientists process data and the literature as it comes in and reassess constantly.

They then draw a hypothesis that best fits all the data all the literature and all the facts.

I am trying to calmly look at evidence and facts and add to my knowledge of where the extant hypothesis may be wrong or weak or strong. You are entrenched as if you have the answer in an evolving situation.

You have the obligation to examine all the data and reexamine it.

From the beginning of this thread when you tried to show a pattern that the FL sightings had some type of corrolary or were caused only with/by the AR sightings you have shown a proclivity to not knowing all the literature and facts .

You are totally unaware that an article in the Anniston Star of 2005 reports IBWO in the Choctaw. You are also unaware that in ~2000 Hill totally by chance ran into an eyewitness claiming to have seen IB in the Pea an upper feeder of the Choctaw. None of these preAU FL sightings know where Cornell is. AU search is substantially independant to the string, trigger conspiracy you invoke.

Your latest snafu is that you do not even know the defintion of a stringer not that this is important in any way other than showing your immersion in the actual rare bird seeker community.

I also have never said that relative size of the birds is such an important part of the overall case. Is is only a small but important part. Its discussion is also germane and I believe novel to this blog which seems to have a predetermined set of opinions and could use a fresh look at some broad and eroneous premisses. You can have your own opinions but not your own facts.

I have respectivley asked to deal in facts only and not conclusions. You on the other hand rely heavivly on some unknown rate of error being commited with no factiual basis for these assertions.

Your belief that all the sightings from Kulivan to Scott to now 30 in AR, to 25 in LA/MS to 25 or more in Choctaw are ones that all rely on one field mark is a misrepresentation and contorsion of the facts starting with Kulivan and again shows you have not looked at all the reports or are even aware of all the reports.

A recent vocal sketic via email did not even know that the pale bill and other marks had been seen in Fl. Someone correcte them and they dissappeared back into their keyboard and certinaly not into the field where the real work negelcted fro 60 years needs to be done.

You have refused to accept that there is a reason that every field guide tries to draw birds to scale on the plates, puts down lengh on the plates and puts weights and sizes in the first part of the text.

Your dismissal of size, weight, length as important is contrary to what every field guide author and artist tries to relate to us.....and most good field birders include it in their arsenal of ID talents.

From 20 inch long birds to 17 inch long small differances in primary projection to the larger bases of small bills.....even minute size differances are important to note.

You do not add to the disussion by saying constantly "birders including me make mistakes". WE ALL KNOW THIS. Please at least add something and quantify the error rate with a similar set of species that are so different in size and plumage and some flight patterns as the IBWO and D p p.

Tell me did you invoke sample size and SD when some blokes pulled up a too short of tape showing that PIWO could flap at an IBWO rate for 100 feet?

I did want to continue to calmy talk about about one variable at a time starting with size but you want to argue as you put it and invoke SD as if the world (outside of some blogs) cant quickly agree and already has that IBWO is a much larger bird than D pp.

Your noticable avoidance to discussing the amazing quote of Catesby (certainly never seen before on this blog) on weight.....570 grams to 300 grams is telling. I think that this differnce in size (if true) must make you feel that you have to invoke the existance of even worse birders than even you have been exposed to.

If I am not banned already I hope to be soon unless some real fair discusion of facts breake out here.

Discussing the psychology of bad birders screwing up IDs of purple finches and house finches at their feeders is not what I am here for.

Now if you have proof how these bad birders got on the AU or CLO teams that would be a pertinet read.

prob my last post or close to it.

Can I be banned or can we calmy conclude that size does least it did when I visited go go bars in my younger days.

peace and Happy new year


Anonymous said...

>>>3) And even if they were accurate, it hasn't been demonstrated how that translates as a field character for distinguishing IBWO from Pileated. The recent reports do not do that either.<<<

Please we are all busy...........lets not plead ignorance to 7th grade geometry where increased weight of 3 dimensional spherical objects that retain their relative shape results in an increased surface area and sagittal cross section area of the object.

Anonymous said...

Sure, works great if IBWO is a sphere. Unfortunately, it isn't so simple.

Anonymous said...

As a seventh grader you can't be expected to read upthread where it states by another poster that a good deal of the body weight differance is in the upper chest of an IBWO compared to a Pileated Woodpecker.

Also being young you might not have transportation to the museums with good trays to actually see these specimens and the noticable differances that should/would manifest itself in a real, living and flying "specimen".

A larger more robust chested Picidae to slimmer bird may be analagous to a Pomarine Jaeger to Long-tailed type situation except the Picidae here have much more easily discerned plummage diffences.

Don't worry 7th grader you will mature...well your body anyway.

Enjoying the liberal way the owner of the site lets the comments least in that he is fair and takes observations well and doesnt literally shut down the flow.

Is that Catesby quote right on the weight or is it a typo by that Anon...I do not have the Catesby collection. The discrepancy between Birds of North America (Jackson) and what Catseby actual said is interesting.

good luck all

birdchaser said...

Your belief that all the sightings from Kulivan to Scott to now 30 in AR, to 25 in LA/MS to 25 or more in Choctaw are ones that all rely on one field mark is a misrepresentation and contorsion of the facts starting with Kulivan and again shows you have not looked at all the reports or are even aware of all the reports.

Its true I haven't seen all these reports, but I don't think details of anywhere near these number of sightings have been published.

However, I would be interested in a good table listing all these sightings, with list of field marks observed each time, distance to bird, observer, etc.

Its been awhile since I reread anything about the Kulivan report, and remember at the time that it wasn't easily dismissed. But since the sighting couldn't be confirmed after a lot of searching, it appeared to be just another questionmark.

I know that not all of the sightings rely on one field mark. But re-reading the published Auburn sightings, it is clear that they are pretty much all short, quickie looks, without a lot of detail. Do we really have to go through each sighting, one at a time, and really look at what is and isn't being said? Which of the Auburn sightings is compelling?

Surely not Hill's 5 Jan 2006 sighting, where he saw no coloration, only an unfamiliar shape that, since he couldn't place into any other category, he claims he is "rather confident" was an IBWO. Come on...he didn't get anything on that bird at all! And there's no real discussion of how he eliminated all of the birds he said it wasn't. This is not the kind of thing that any serious bird records committee would spend any amount of time considering.

Hill's 21 Jan 2006 sighting is pretty bad too. Field marks--size. Hmmm. How are we to be sure he got that right? Longer-winged than Pileated. Hmmm. Wing pattern. Again, interesting, but flying away, with quick wingbeats, and no binoculars, not really much to work with there. Its possible that you could see an IBWO and this is all that you would see. Its also possible that with a naked eye view of a bird going away that you wouldn't really see enough to be sure of anything. This is a really sketchy sighting. Again, not something a record committe is likely to take seriously.

Kyle's sighting on 26 April 2006--it isn't even really possible to be sure that he saw a woodpecker.

When I first read the report, I was most interested in the Tyler Hicks 24 Dec 2005 sighting. I liked the description of the underwing of the bird. But again, naked eye view. Very brief sighting. Not enough detail to really confirm it was even a woodpecker, not a duck. Besides general size and maybe shape, the only real mark, seen very briefly, is the underwing pattern. On a quick look, not really enough to be confident about.

Brian Rolek's view of two birds was also interesting, in that he described the underwings. But again, it was a naked eye view, of birds in flight. Not seen in binoculars well until flying away. Then just the white on the wing is seen. But short sighting, distant, again, not a lot of details. Another report that a records committee would have no problem just rejecting outright as not detailed enough and too brief.

The other Auburn sightings aren't any better. The classic is Brian's 26 Feb 2006 sighting. Five wingbeats. At the wingbeat rates that people are talking about, this is less than a second of observation. Nobody can be absolutely sure of anything seen in that short of a time. And again, naked eyes at 100m. It just isn't possible to take a sighting like this seriously.

So, what do you end up with from the published Auburn sightings? Almost nothing. A lot of tantilizing looks at stuff. Each sighting in and of itself is not enough to make you do much more than scratch your head and say, darn, sounds like another interesting something that got away. You add them all up, and that's still all you've got. One poor sighting, plus another poor sighting, plus another poor sighting does not equal anything definitive, or even suggestive.

The only way you can take these sightings even partially seriously, is if you already believe that there are IBWOs in the area. Unfortunately, that is exactly what hasn't been established by these weak sightings. This happens all the time on rare bird searches. A rare bird is known to be in the area. People get quick looks at birds that might be the bird, and quickly convince themselves that they in fact did see the rare bird. There is a tendancy sometimes to accept very crummy sightings in those situations, when if the sighting were to take place without a known rarity being in the area, there would be no confidence in the short sighting and nobody would believe it.

To me, it looks like at some point the Auburn team was convinced that IBWOs were in the area, and they used every possible poor and miserable sighting that they had to try and support that claim. Unfortunately, it just isn't very convincing.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to remarks made here, a sample size of 3 does NOT preclude statistical analysis. In fact, several tests allow one to make excellent comparison between a number of values from one group (e.g., Pileated Woodpecker) and as few as a single value representing another group (e.g., Ivory-billed Woodpecker). This is not a problem for anyone well versed in statistics. And, judging from the data available, there's no question about their being a highly significant difference between the two species.

birdchaser said...

Statistical analysis with small sample sizes still doesn't answer questions about:

1) the accuracy or precision of the original IBWO measurements
2) how size differences might translate into field characters
3) how reliable those characters are
4) how anyone could use those characters without direct comparison with another known bird
5) how anyone could use those characters on what is almost the standard IBWO "sighting", a quick glimpse of a bird flying away.

But the real thing here, that we need to focus on, is that in almost all cases the IBWO "sightings" have been more glimpses or quicky looks. We need to explode the myth that these glimpses are useful in any way to document the presence of IBWOs--or any other rare bird. You have to have time to double-check and really get a good look at field marks. That takes more than a glimpse.

Anonymous said...

Where are all the papers with data refuting the evidence gathered in AR, LA and FL?

As far as I know, there is only one paper published stating that Ivory-billed has been found, and that's the CLO paper. It has been rebutted by Sibley et al in Science. Jackson discussed the problems with CLO's claims in The Auk. The CLO paper depends upon the video and some eyewitness reports to "prove" the bird's existence. Even they say that the audio evidence is not conclusive. The video has been torn apart by experts. CLO defended it using ridiculous stiff-winged models.

As to LA and FL, where are the papers published that claim that Ivory-billed has been definitively rediscovered? The Auburn group has posted lots of data to their web site consisting of eyewitness accounts and sounds, but they openly state that their evidence is not conclusive.

Auburn shows no sonograms showing that their sounds perfectly match IBWO. As a result, they are nothing more than "could be". In fact, the calls vary so much that they can be placed into about a half dozen categories; rising, falling, inflected, fully double-noted, short, long, etc. Until they state which of these are IBWO and which are not, it's simply a collection of interesting sounds.

So the simple answer to your question is, other than CLO, there is nothing published in a scientific journal at this time for which a rebuttal can be written.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon: I wrote that original question and appreciate and would like to comment on your answer and exactly where I believe we differ.

However I have found this moderator to be subpar and extremely biased....I will let others watch his antics for awhile.

The latest fiasco at being intellectually disingenous was his posting a picture of a mishapen PIWO and a possible immature IBWO as a valid size comparison between the species. His giving no data on the female IBWO age is typical of his MO and laziness.

Also his insistance to deny the published words of respected authors ranging from Wilson and Audubon to Allen, Kellog, Tanner and Peterson on the great size differances between these species is indicative of his entrenchment at trying to be right at the cost of the truth.

He also projects his field weaknesses on to all others out there trying to make a contribution as they bird some difficult terrain.

He has also been fairly lazy in not being able to research one of the sources for the weight of IBWO that I puposely left unresearched after looking up the other two for the blog thread.

He calmly asks for robust sightings then dismisses robust sightings after he is reminded or informed for the first time that they exist......e.g. Kulivan, a few from Auburn and several from AR and recent LA looks.

He also can not place sightings into context of other data sets as if multivariate correlation wasn't around since the Rennaisance.

Also failure to even recognise the pertinent taxon involved in the south, D. pileatus pileatus, is a sign that he neither deserves or is soliciting a fair and thougthful audience......go somewhere else to find enlightment or the chance to enlighten probably will be bored here soon also as he struggles with ...golly gee how does a larger size relate to a recoznizable field mark.

I don't know maybe he should go ask all those field guide authors everybody loves so much and use the length and size as the first, primary field characteristic on every plate and in the text.

good luck

>>>> Anonymous said...

Where are all the papers with data refuting the evidence gathered in AR, LA and FL?

As far as I know, there is only one paper published stating that Ivory-billed has been found, and that's the CLO paper. It has been rebutted by Sibley et al in Science. Jackson discussed the problems with CLO's claims in The Auk. The CLO paper depends upon the video and some eyewitness reports to "prove" the bird's existence. Even they say that the audio evidence is not conclusive. The video has been torn apart by experts. CLO defended it using ridiculous stiff-winged models.<<<<

birdchaser said...

OK, there will be no more anonymous trolls posting here, as I've enabled comment moderation again due to this last inflamatory post. I'm happy to discuss these issues with anyone, out in the open, in the light of day...but not with anonymous posters. If you are serious, use your name. If you aren't serious, then you are right, go somewhere else. Sorry, but there are rules to polite discourse, and the first rule is you have to be on the same ground. I'm not anonymous, and if you want to discuss these issues with me, then you have to accept the same openness to public scrutiny and criticism that I do.

If anyone wants to malign me or my motives here, they have to have a name. Better yet, email me privately and we can always discuss things on private email. I can keep private emails confidential if you are don't want to say things off the record. But in public, on my public blog, you have to post with your name.


birdchaser said...

One last thing. Part of this whole IBWO saga is the believability of the sight records. For a witness to be credible, they need to be open to public cross examination. While I applaud those who have come forward with what they consider to be evidence that IBWOs are still among us, the questioning of those records is to be expected, and applauded as well. Hopefully we can do this civilly. Unfortunately, most criticism of the sightings is taking place privately, or through anonymous blog comments. I was hoping we could have these discussions without name calling or impuning of motives, but maybe that is impossible.

I have pointed out why I do not find convincing some of the evidence presented to date. I realize that some might take that as a personal assault on their birding skills, credibility, etc. and I am truly sorry if I have said anything mean or untoward on this blog. If anyone has made any mistakes or what I might consider errors in judgement in this IBWO fiasco, I don't hold that against them.

People differ in their opinions and judgements about things. That is actually what fascinates me the most about this whole story, how different people can look at things so differently.

That doesn't mean both sides are right. I actually think that there have been abuses of logic by the most strident critics and IBWO sighting supporters. I think we need more searches before we can confidently claim that IBWOs are still around, or that they have indeed gone the way of the Carolina Parakeet.

In the meantime, we can look at what is being presented as evidence and try and judge for ourselves how reliable it is. For me, while a few sightings have been intriguing, nobody has been able to come up with anything that we can all feel good about.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1 and other TBs, people would take you a little more seriously if you demonstrated a basic grasp of grammar and spelling and refrained from ad hominem attacks and obscenities.

Andy, those of us appalled by the IBWO tragicomedy certainly do want to rain hard on the TB's annoying parade. You do give people far too much credit.

Those who have Bohemian Waxwing and Goshawk on your lifelists based on size alone, you are stringers! Birdchaser is correct that all serious birders learned long ago that perceived size is routinely misleading.

Birdchaser, if we need more searches for IBWO don't we also need searches for "extinct" birds found in blue states such as the Labrador Duck? If we are going to support pointless searches I don't want all of the money going to the South.

Andy said...

IBWO Athiest, I'm wondering if you are criticizing the science of the Cornell Labs announcement, or something else? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm assuming that you, along with the rest of us, would be elated by a truly unquestionable observation of an IBWO, with sufficient photographic evidence and hopefully multiple observers, that would prove their existence beyond a doubt.

It seems to me that the Cornell report is open to criticism in the way it was somewhat rushed, without the typical peer review that happens in this sort of thing. Further, it seems as though there was a political motive behind making a big announcement, and that led to the rush to publish/announce. For those things, I think criticism is warranted and justified.

However, what's the down side here? More people are now searching for a bird that may exist, in a type of habitat that is difficult to enter and that is rapidly being destroyed. I really don't think that there are enough birders going into this area to have a huge impact on wildlife there. The areas are too hard to access, so you only have small groups of hard-core birders going in there, and these birders are hopefully working to be stealthy and thus maybe having less impact on the ecosystem than your typical eco-tourist.

Secondly, perhaps some land that contains this special habitat is being preserved, maybe by government funds or private operations like The Nature Conservancy. How is that a bad thing? Even if there aren't IBWO's there, I'm sure there are other animals that won't mind those trees being spared logging.

There is only one issue that I see as a legitimate complaint in this situation. That is the idea that by using funding to preserve land where IBWO's may live you are taking away funds that could be used to preserve land in other areas. And in this case, preserving a unique habitat seems like a good idea even if IBWO's are not present.


Anonymous said...

For answers to your questions please refer to my posts and others in the IBWO skeptic archives and also refer to John Wall's Peckergate website. It seems to me that you haven't been following the IBWO "rediscovery" very closely. Millions of dollars have been wasted, the public trust betrayed, serious birders disrespected, and formerly highly regarded individuals and institutions discredited.

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